Last holiday of the year found us in SE Asia, exploring Myanmar (also known as Burma). If I had to describe it in a few words, I'd say temples everywhere, different world and kind people.
The borders of Myanmar opened up to tourists only few years back, and we wanted to explore this country before tourism and a changing economy spoils it. We spent the first few days in Bangkok, eating delicious food, enjoying the tourist life and catching up with our friends - and our travel buddies for the next two weeks.
And so it begins:
Day 1: Hello, Myanmar! Welcome to Mandalay
Even before we landed in Mandalay I could see through the window golden pagodas and stupas, the temples that are everywhere in Myanmar. The rest of the group would arrive in Mandalay the next day, so we took advantage of the first day and visited Monywa, a nearby city. As soon as we got off the airport taxi and stepped into the bus station, it was clear that the south-east asian adventure has started: everybody trying to convince us that they have the best deal to get to Monywa, “good price for you”, the usual fun. We spent first afternoon getting to Monywa and making plans for the next day (and some of us ironing US dollars, because in Myanmar the notes have to be new and crisp to be accepted).
Traveling in style
Day 2: Exploring Monywa, and Caves in Monywa and back to Mandalay
We woke up early next morning, got our rental scooters and head straight to Po Win Taung caves, a Buddhist cave complex not far from Monywa. We spent a few hours visiting some of the nearly 1000 decorated caves and 500 years old statues and paintings and forgetting we are in 21st century.
The trip to Monywa and back was quite long, and we only got to spend half a day exploring the city and surroundings, but we got a glimpse of a non-touristy part of the country. The rest of our group arrived in Mandalay that afternoon and we were happy to reunite in the evening.
Day 3: Mandalay and around
We had the whole day to explore Mandalay and the surroundings. We got to see many temples (among them, two of my favorite ones) and got almost lost on our rental scooters in the middle of nowhere.
In the evening we visited the super-touristy Ubein bridge. That evening we took a night bus to Inle Lake. This was the first night spent in a bus during this trip, but for sure not the last one.
Day 4: Hello Inle Lake
We got to our guest house early in the morning and arranged a boat trip for the five of us starting in a few hours. Inle Lake was amazing: floating villages with suspended houses, monasteries and floating gardens, many temples and skilful fishermen. The day was finished with a beers, watching the sunset and later celebrating our friend's birthday.
Fisherman on Inle Lake: rowing with one leg
Day 5: Biking around Inle Lake
The next day was a “chill” day - no, it was not chilly, but after four days of tight schedule, it was time to chill. We biked around the lake, found a perfect local restaurant on the lake and enjoyed sunset and wine at one of the only wineries in Myanmar. So much fun! Everybody was ready and excited to head out to Bagan - one of the highlights of the trip.
Lunch with a view
Day 6: Good morning, Bagan
After another night spent in the bus, we woke up early in the morning in Bagan. On our rental e-scooters (which we got conveniently from our guest house), we headed to see the sunrise. We've done research in advance and we knew exactly from which temple we wanted to see it. The sunrise was amazing and lived up to our expectations: hundreds of temples, hot baloons in the sky and some magic in the air.
The rest of the day we spent it on e-bikes exploring the many temples of Bagan and ended with another nice sunset.
Day 7: More of Bagan
The morning found half of hour group tired and stomach sick. Backpacking has its risk. But without too much time to loose, we continued exploring Bagan, on a more relaxed pace. And in the evening - back to the night bus.
Day 8 & 9: Yangon
We got to Yangon early in the morning. We would spend the next two days in the biggest city of Myanmar, the previous capital. The most notable attraction of Yangon is Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in Myanmar, and one of the tallest in the world. We could see it from everywhere in the city.
Traditional Burmese wedding
In Yangon was where the colonialist influence was obvious - old colonial buildings left from the British times, elegant and fancy tea houses in select neighborhoods, all of them in a crowded, crazy, loud, poor city. The contrasts were eye opening.
Day 10: Hpa'an and a night in a buddhist monastery
After two days in Yangon, we got by night bus to Hpa’an, a smaller city closer to the border with Thailand. After exploring the city on scooters, we experienced what would become one of the highlights of the trip: a hike on Mt. Zwegabin, where an isolated buddhist monastery was located, and spending the night there.
We wouldn't call it vacation without at least one hike
The sunset and the sunrise next morning were magical: buddhist monks, monkeys, puppies and a few respectful tourists. Peace, quiet and amazing views all around. I couldn’t have imagined a better end for our Burmese adventure.
Enjoying the sunset
Day 11 & 12: Back to Bangkok
The magic was over, and getting back to Bangkok turned out not to be an easy task: 2 hours taxi ride to the border, a tuk tuk and a bus ride, then no more seats in the next bus, a night spent in a random city, and after more than 24 hours we finally made it back to Bangkok. It wouldn't be a real trip in SE Asia without this small mess-up.
Friends, ice cream, beers, crowns, smiles. Everybody's happy :)
We spent the last evening in Khao San, the crazy backpacker district in Bangkok, where we did what tourists do: meet with old friends, enjoy cocktails, massage, street food, and even eating some insects. Yes! We tried that as well.
Signature photo :) - This time, on Mt. Zwegabin. Good bye, Myanmar!